Human Rights in Guatemala

Guatemala’s lack of respect for the right to prior free and informed consultation with indigenous peoples in relation to extractive projects, monoculture, hydroelectric plants and other types of initiatives has aggravated their situation of exclusion and inequality.

Judicial independence has been threatened by corruption, delays in appointments and Congress’ refusal to swear in the head judge of the Constitutional Court. Harassment and attacks against human rights defenders remain widespread.

Human rights in Guatemala

In a country as stratified by race and wealth as Guatemala, the very concept of human rights challenges those in power. Those who speak out on behalf of the most vulnerable are subjected to repression.

The indigenous peoples continue to suffer from high levels of exclusion and poverty. They lack access to their ancestral lands and territories. They also experience the negative impacts of development projects, such as mining, monoculture and hydroelectric plants, developed without prior free and informed consultation with them.

In addition, they face high rates of violence and discrimination against them. The police and judiciary are implicated in human rights violations and abuses. Civic space continues to shrink as activists are stigmatized and criminalized. Thousands have been forced to leave the country.


Corruption is widespread in Guatemalan society and undermines the effectiveness of public institutions. It is common for businesses to pay bribes to obtain needed permits or avoid retaliation from criminal groups.

In 2018, as CICIG was moving forward with historic corruption investigations and receiving broad support from the broader Guatemalan population, high-level actors led campaigns against the body at both national and international levels. They stigmatized social leaders and justice officials, passed laws to promote impunity, and suffocated the media and business interests that supported the fight against corruption (HRR 2018).

Some judges investigating high-profile cases have faced threats or spurious complaints used to harass them. For example, Judge Erika Aifan, who is investigating allegations of illegal electoral financing, faces more than 70 legal complaints filed by powerful people seeking to obstruct her work (FitW 2015). The process for selecting Supreme Court justices and Appellate Court judges is also susceptible to corruption and manipulation by criminal operators.


As the Cold War drew to a close, leftist union organizers, professors, and students started to disappear in Guatemala. They were abducted and killed by government forces or by right wing paramilitary death squads that the army tolerated.

The families of the disappeared began to organize as El Grupo and demanded justice. They took their case to the Inter-American Court and won a landmark ruling against the state for its forced disappearances.

However, the justice system is under-resourced and a climate of intimidation stifles investigations. Those who work on cases like Bamaca’s face serious obstacles and often suffer harassment. During this forum representatives from civil society organizations integrated by family members of the disappeared shared their experiences in the fight to search for their loved ones and seek justice.

Violence against human rights defenders

Human rights defenders face violence and criminalization for their work. Civil society groups have reported increased intimidation and threats; some have been forced to close. Several human rights defenders have been murdered in recent years. Judicial independence is undermined by corruption and delays in the nomination of judges, a refusal by Congress to swear in the head judge of the Constitutional Court, and spurious complaints against justices and prosecutors investigating high profile cases.

Guatemalans’ freedom to protest is restricted by the high level of insecurity that encourages self-censorship among ordinary citizens. Trade unions face discrimination and harassment. Despite a strong electoral democracy, political parties remain divided and often rely on extrapolitical forces to gain power.

LGBT rights

Although the constitution guarantees equal rights, minorities, including Indigenous communities, face discrimination and poverty. Sexual orientation and gender identity remain major areas of concern, with a reported high level of violence and discrimination against LGBT people. There is no comprehensive civil legislation protecting LGBT persons, and the country has not established a legal procedure for gender recognition.

Judicial independence is under attack, with corruption allegations, delays in appointments of judges, refusal by Congress to swear in the head judge of the Constitutional Court, and spurious complaints against judges and prosecutors investigating high profile cases. Civil space shrank as a result, with human rights defenders and protesters facing repression and unfounded criminal proceedings.

Workers’ rights are protected by a number of international conventions and domestic law, but workers’ organizations have reported pressure, threats, and retaliation from public officials.

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